Well, I guess the games really have begun in earnest. 122,255 of Iowa’s Republican faithful made it to the caucuses. However the pundits score the outcome or project its importance, after months of campaigning, endless debates and poll gyrations Iowans still couldn’t decisively decide who should lead them to the promised land. Yes, Mitt Romney was declared winner, but 24.6% — by 8 votes? Hardly a sign of rousing support much less any kind nomination mandate. It seems only to confirm that he can’t break through that 25% ceiling, exactly where he started a year ago. To put Iowa in perspective, just Imagine if come November we would have a presidential victor supported by less than a quarter of the voters. How could he possibly govern or be seen as having the right to do so? Now that’s highly unlikely even let’s say with Paul, Bloomberg and perhaps Romney joining Obama in a 4-way race, but you get the point. Romney doesn’t yet have his party behind him and perhaps he never will.
I don’t know that Iowa is predictive of anything — their pivotal first out of the gate role has always seemed curious to me. But I think the outcome does underscore how divided the country. Even with a moderately homogeneous Republican electorate there — generally more conservative and religious (think especially the Bachmann/Santorum pitches) they evidence polarity not unity. Romney, Santorum and Paul are not natural or comfortable bedfellows. Neither are their supporters. Truth be known, a similar division exists within the Democratic ranks with various constituencies expressing widely differing degrees of support of, or disappointment in, the President and his policies.
It’s the conventional wisdom that as polarized as the country may appear from the discourse, the majority of Americans are in the middle. Don’t believe it. Those who have taken the time to become really informed on the issues and the solutions are all over the map. Sure a majority of Americans may (and I stress that word) want an end to the divisiveness, but they certainly aren’t putting their leaders’ feet to the fire to get that done. The opposite of demanding compromise, most think one side or the other is caving in too soon and too often. In our economic despair we have, if anything, retrogressed into a nation more divided not less. Neither Tea Party nor Occupy, the only visible ground-up movements, are close to centrist in their approaches. We can argue whether one or the other is being manipulated (which means that we are too), but let’s agree that both are comprised of absolutists to whom any compromise whatsoever is considered selling out, somehow impure. We can see to what effect that works in the performance of Tea legislators who rode in on the protest wave of 2010 and I’d guess much the same would happen if their Occupy counterparts would prevail in 2012, not that there is any sign they will even engage in that way.
We have no center or only a center defined as agree with me because I’m right in my thinking. And perhaps that isn’t so surprising or necessarily wrong. Read Paul Krugman (with whom I usually agree) and then some equally credentialed economist on the right and you will see that even the most informed judgments can be 180o apart. Is Krugman right that debt is misunderstood and not really the central problem? He makes a compelling case, but an awful lot of smart people have bought into the idea that debt is the problem. Again, that’s not the issue here but rather that the center where supposedly the majority of people find themselves is nothing but an illusion.
It is said that Iowa’s vote this year was the closest ever, translated the most inconclusive. If you agree with my contention that most of us are more all over the map than at any common center, then Iowa is (despite whatever makes it an outlier) typically the America we know. It will be interesting to see how the GOP race plays out, and rest assured the press hopes it will play out very, very, very slowly. It still isn’t clear who might be Obama’s most difficult opponent. At this early date with the economy still teetering at the edge, it is impossible and foolish to make any absolute predictions about November. For now Charlie Rose, among others, seems to relish finding talking heads who will, even if with some caveats, trash the President. That’s what makes for a race, what makes it interesting. But let’s remember, there is really no one else to trash at this point. That will change. Also a third or fourth party contender would have an impact on the outcome. Ross Perot elected Bill Clinton and Ralph Nader didn’t exactly serve George Bush badly.
Will we ever see that mythical center that’s supposed to exist? I guess one would hope so, or some might. But then again, we’ve rarely moved on in this country, positively or negatively (depending on your point of view), from a dominant center. Perhaps there was some agreement on civil rights but it was leadership taking what, in the context of history, was a radical left position that moved the ball. I don’t think we turned to the right because that’s necessarily where the center lay. Reagan, the ground having been prepared by Goldwater and Nixon (and a long in coming), dragged us in that direction. When it acquiesces, which it does, the center moves one-way or the other, inexplicitly and inconsistently — no substantive questions asked. And they call Romney a flip-flopper.